Jeff Woodward (above) and Methacton are one of the favorites in the PIAA Class 6A tournament. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
CoBL Staff (@hooplove215)
There’s no doubt that the PIAA’s big-school bracket always brings with it big games, big crowds, and big storylines each year. Last year, there was Pennridge and Navy commit Sean Yoder making a dream run to the final, challenging the high-major talent of Kennedy Catholic, which escaped with an instant-classic, 64-62 win in 2OT.
Kennedy Catholic’s not in the bracket this year, with Maceo Austin at Duquesne and Oscar Tshiebwe at West Virginia, and Pennridge is back but as the No. 7 seed out of District 1, not No. 4. And the last District 1 6A champ, Abington, is done for the season as well. Instead, a new powerful squad from District 1 led by a Division I-bound big man, as well as a couple name Philadelphia programs and several from around the state are all in the mix with a number of high-major targets leading teams and with high hopes about how the next couple weeks will go.
Read ahead for a look at some of the 6A favorites, as well as info on some other programs that hope to make some noise in their next few games.
(Thanks to Brad Everett of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for his help with this preview).
The Favorites (in alphabetical order)
Butler (7-1; 20-4)
The Golden Tornadoes had gone almost 30 years without a section title, and the last time that happened, Matt Clement was Butler’s point guard. Now, he’s the coach at his alma mater and the Golden Tornadoes are both Section I and WPIAL champions. They’ve lost just once since the start of 2020, an impressive run that includes wins against three other Class 6A state playoff qualifiers (Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair and Peters Township). Clement, who pitched in the big leagues from 1998 through 2006, has a squad that includes his two sons, Mattix and Maddon, but Ethan Morton is the definitive star. The Purdue signee, a super-versatile 6-6 wing who runs point but also can score inside, scored 20 points in the WPIAL finale and sophomore guard Devin Carney provides a consistent outside shooting threat for Butler.
Methacton (1-1; 26-2)
District champions for the first time in school history, this Methacton squad’s only two losses have come to fellow state title contender: Roman Catholic (by seven, in December) and Wilson (by two, on Feb. 1). Besides that, they’ve been thoroughly dominating competition, winning each of their six league and district playoff games by at least 23 points; outside of their two losses, only two other teams were able to stay within single digits all year long. Head coach Jeff Derstine doesn’t go much deeper than his top six, but rarely needs to; the starting backcourt of seniors Owen Kropp, Brett Eberly and Erik Timko plus sophomore Brett Byrne are a well-oiled machine that runs around 6-10 center and Colgate commit Jeff Woodward, a true anchor for his team at both ends. Timko, who went from the JV team as a sophomore to a D-II recruit with multiple scholarship offers, can score it from all three levels, and Kropp, Eberly and Byrne are all above-average 3-point shooters who will drive, dish and score with opportunity.
Jalen Duren (above) and Roman Catholic are young but talented; the 6-9 Duren is the consensus No. 2 sophomore in the entire country. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Roman Catholic (12-2; 16-10)
Don’t let the 10 losses fool you: the Cahillites are every bit a state championship contender, but they’ll need to get things going in the right direction after losing the Catholic League championship game and then the District 12 title match-up against Gratz in their only two contests since Feb. 19. This Roman squad, which made it to the PIAA quarterfinals last year before losing to fellow PCL squad La Salle, had a lot to replace from that group, including wings Hakim Hart (Maryland) and Seth Lundy (Penn State). But they boast a roster that includes the best forward prospect not just in the state but perhaps the entire country in 6-9 sophomore Jalen Duren, a two-way beast in the post who can score around the rim, block shots, bring the ball upcourt and even find cutters on the move. Throw in another top-25 sophomore, 6-4 guard Justice Williams, plus talented 6-2 senior guard Lynn Greer III and a promising freshman point guard in Xzayvier Brown, and there’s a lot to like about this group. The looming Methacton/Roman quarterfinal is a major, major game –– assuming both teams make it that far.
Simon Gratz (12-1; 23-5)
Public League ‘A’ Division regular-season champs Simon Gratz hit a bit of a snag late in the season, dropping their first Pub game to Math, Civics, and Sciences in the final regular-season game of the year, and again in the Pub championship. Lynard Stewart’s team did rebound with a win over PCL runner up, Roman Catholic, in the District 12 title game, a win that shows that the Bulldogs are indeed for real in their hunt to win a state championship for the first time ever; Public League teams didn’t play in states until the 2004-05 season, so Gratz’s teams that featured the likes of Rasheed Wallace, Aaron McKie, and even Stewart himself didn’t get that chance. The Bulldogs rely heavily on slashing guard Yassir Stover, the Public League MVP. Fellow senior guards Yasir Rowell, and Edward Harris are also major contributors, forming an excellent defensive backcourt. The win over Roman places Gratz the one seed, a prime position to make up for a disappointing exit in the league tournament.
Stevie Mitchell (above) and Wilson West Lawn are coming off their first-ever District 3 6A championship. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Wilson West Lawn (3-1; 27-1)
The first District 3 championship game appearance in over two decades went splendidly for Wilson, which won its first-ever district title by taking down rival Reading, 58-56, behind 27 points from standout guard Stevie Mitchell. Mitchell, a 6-2 junior and the district’s best prospect since Lonnie Walker (Reading) and Eli Brooks (Spring Grove) both graduated from their respective schools in 2017, Mitchell is an explosive scorer with a terrific basketball IQ and off-court personality, and offers from the likes of Stanford, Penn, St. Joe’s, Virginia Tech, Penn State, Temple, and several other high-major and high-academic programs. Wilson’s only loss all season long came to Central York by seven back in December; since then, they’ve taken out District 1 champ Methacton –– on Methacton’s home court, no less, by two points in early February –– plus Reading (three times) and Muhlenberg (twice). Big man Evin Timochenko, a 6-6 post player, gives them a presence inside, 6-2 senior wing Avanti Lockhart and 5-10 junior point guard Mykel Huffman also bring plenty of punch on both ends. Under head coach Matt Coldren, they definitely have what it takes to make a deep, deep run.
Cheltenham (1-2; 24-4)
A clear contender for district champion and with a run in the state tournament looking likely in the offseason, Cheltenham suffered a major blow in the first quarter of their season opener, when point guard and D-I signee Zahree Harrison (St. Francis) went down while blocking a shot, an MRI eventually revealing a couple torn knee ligaments and the end of his season before it even got going. But even with Harrison sidelined, the Panthers won the Suburban One League’s American Conference and then made it all the way to the District 1 6A championship game, taking out Upper Darby, Coatesville and then Bensalem before losing to Methacton. Pat Fleury’s squad is led by Rider-bound 6-5 senior wing Jaelen McGlone, a high-flying athlete with a solid outside shot, plus emerging 6-2 sophomore guard Justin Moore, who picked up his first D-I offer this season, from CCSU.
Chester (1-3; 22-4)
When you’re one of the most decorated programs in Pennsylvania basketball history, you’re never going to be counted out. The Clippers have won eight state titles and made the PIAA playoffs every year but one dating all the way back to 1981-82. They ran into the Methacton buzzsaw in the District 1 semis but handled Bensalem in the third-place game. And though the Clippers fell in the state quarterfinals last year, they’ve got an experienced group back in the fold – junior Karell Watkins is the centerpiece of the offense, both literally and figuratively, as he does the majority of his work inside. But classmate Faheem Berry is a dangerous weapon on the outside, and he helps to drive the offense along with Akeem Taylor, nephew of Chester coach Keith Taylor.
McDowell (10-1; 21-3)
For the 15th time, the Trojans can claim a District 10 title. But it’s the first time they’ve made the state tournament since 2014 — certainly a long dry spell for a program with a rich history. McDowell topped Allderdice in the subregional final, and they can thank senior William Jeffress for getting them this far — the senior is a top-60 player in the country, per 247Sports, with offers from Penn State, Pitt, Notre Dame and Baylor. Senior Jaeden Jefferson adds a major scoring lift and is capable of popping off at any given moment. And junior Jonah Bock just became the first Trojan to hit 60 3-pointers in a single season since 2004. McDowell has picked up a lot of wins against name programs this year from the western part of the state, including Kennedy Catholic (twice), State College, Pine-Richland, Cathedral Prep, and Erie.
Reading (3-2; 18-8)
There are few programs in the state whose name alone carries significant weight, where the players on the court matter less than the reputation. Reading is one such program, as ninth-year head coach Rick Perez has continued a tradition of hoops success that includes the 2017 state championship, behind current Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV, and a constant presence deep in March. Though the Red Knights are without Kutztown standout Wesley Butler and Daniel Colter (St. Thomas, Fl.) from last year’s state tournament qualifier, this year’s group is once again the second seed coming out of District 3. Perez’s group has a bunch of size up front, starting with the impressive junior forward duo of Moro Osomanu (6-6) and Denim Adams (6-5), 6-5 sophomore Daniel Alcantara on the wing, with 6-6 sophomore Ermil Fleurnville and 6-3 sophomore Cruz Beasley among a group of four or five regulars off the bench. One more player to watch for is 6-0 sophomore guard Joey Chapman, the team’s starting point guard who Perez is high on for the next couple years.
Upper St. Clair (7-3; 20-4)
If Butler is the favorite out of the Pittsburgh area, the Panthers aren’t very far behind. Yes, WPIAL runner-up Mt. Lebanon edged out Upper St. Clair in the Section II standings, but the Panthers nearly took out the Golden Tornadoes in the District 7 semis. Upper St. Clair has had a few strong seasons but hasn’t turned those campaigns into postseason runs — now it gets its chance. Junior combo guard Luke Gensler is the Panthers’ leading scorer and the 6-foot captain is following in the footsteps of his brother, Tanner, who led Upper St. Clair last season. The Panthers will have their hands full with Allderdice in the opening round and potentially Butler in the second, but perhaps this is the year Upper St. Clair breaks through.
First Round: Sat., March 7
Second Round: Weds., March 11
Quarterfinals: Sat.,, March 14
Semifinals: Tues., March 17
Championship: Fri., March 20
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